Google Chrome OS – the browser is the OS?

google_chrome_logoLast week Google announced its upcoming OS, Chrome OS. More than the fact that Google is entering the OS market, which was expected, the most significant thing about this announcement is the OS name. Chrome is already the name of the web browser that Google launched 9 months ago.

Chrome is without a doubt the fastest browser in existence. It doesn’t really show in standard static HTML/CSS web pages, however bloated they may be, because I believe all browsers are close to the maximum speed that can be reached when displaying this kind of pages. Where Chrome crushes the competition is when running AJAX applications. The GWT application I’m working on is so much faster on Chrome than any other browser, that you easily forget it’s an AJAX app. Firefox is already much smoother than IE, but Chrome is way ahead in terms of executing JavaScript and giving the user instant feedback. There was a time we considered optimizing the server-side processing or the network usage because we thought that was where most time was lost. Good thing we didn’t, because after trying our application on Chrome, we now know that this would have been useless. The slow parts of or applications were only slow because of inefficient JavaScript execution on IE and (to a lesser extent) Firefox.

So, Chrome gives the best user experience for AJAX apps. But what about the overall computer user experience? Google figured that if you “live on the web”, the OS in you computer is probably getting in the way, because it’s designed to do too many things instead of just letting you get on the web. It’s slow to boot, it’s big, it has a lot of things you don’t need and will never use. So the idea of Google is to remove everything but the bare minimum: a kernel (Linux), a windowing system (no details on that, except it will be “new”) and of course a browser (Chrome). The name Chrome OS was then a logical choice, since the most visible part of this OS will be the Chrome browser.

I read a lot of articles saying that Google was now set to fight Microsoft on the OS field. Is this true? Yes and no. Yes, because it will probably take away a significant part of  Microsoft’s business, that is computers that are designed for online access. That includes netbooks, but not only: a large and growing part of computer users “live on the web” and don’t use their computers for anything else. No, because there will still be some use cases where Chrome OS will not be an option: gaming, video editing, development, all CPU-demanding activities. And we’re only talking about desktop users of course.

So we have a OS with a minimal Linux kernel, and adopting web technologies as the main application building bricks… does that remind you of anything? If not, have a look there


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